The Rainbow Connection – Parshat Noach 5773

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?”  Kermit the Frog, one of my favorite Muppets, is famous for this song that ponders the magic of a rainbow and my good friend, Roy G. Biv.  Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.  These seven lines come together to create one of the most stunning images in nature.  YouTube videos and countless online photo albums are filled with beautiful pictures of radiant rainbows, single and double.  We are in awe of this splendid display of color and calm after the tumultuous storms that pass. 
Parshat Noach, our Torah portion this week, is made famous for the central two accounts that take place: first, the flood of the earth to drown out those who were not righteous, second the Tower of Bavel and the subsequent spreading out of the nations and languages.  These two narratives are bridged together by the expectations for humankind to behave in an honorable and righteous manner and the covenant established between God and the generations to come, symbolized by the rainbow. 
In our Parshah, chapter 9 verses 12-16, the rainbow officially takes new meaning.  The text states: 
“God further said, “this is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come.  I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all humankind.  When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth.  That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.” 
Rambam, the great medieval commentator Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, teaches that the rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant not to destroy the world again, a sign of peace.  This sign is the only phenomenon that had already existed in the world that becomes invested with a new symbolic significance.  The rainbow, in Hebrew keshet, represents all of the different shades and colors of our world bound together in a single instance.  It stands as a reminder that while each of us has our differences, those differences should never push us apart.  And just as importantly, it sets an example of how we should keep our promises to each other, as God did to us. 
When we see a rainbow, we are obligated to say the following brachah,
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה אֱ לֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, זוֹכֵר הַבְּרִית, וְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתוֹ, וְקַיָּם בְּמַאֲמָרוֹ.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, ruler of the world, who remembers the covenant and is faithful to it and stands by his word. 
Even today, every rainbow we see is a reminder of God’s relationship with humankind.  More than that, when we take the time to take in the rainbow, to pause and remember that the covenant God made comes with expectations of humanity to treat one another with kavod, respect, we renew our covenant with God and create a kehillah kedosha, a holy community.
So, Kermit, there are so many songs about rainbows because they remind us of unity, understanding, faith and God.  Who knew a felt frog could be such a Torah scholar?
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Certain individual colors also hold special significance in Judaism.  For example, we’re commanded to dye a thread of our tallitot (prayer shawls) with techelet, an indigo/blue color.  This serves as a permanent reminder of the tablets given to Moshe on Sinai, which, it is said, were made of the sapphire stone on which God “stood.”

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